Fanboys and fangirls rejoice! Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children has finally come after many delays, and behold: it is good. It is very good. There are so many things I could say about the movie, but that’s not my assignment. This is a review for the movie’s soundtrack. So, let’s talk about it.
First of all, take note of the disc times. With a little bit of creativity (such as cutting the piano tracks down to just what was used within the movie), this soundtrack could have fit on one disc. When you release a two disc set and one of the discs falls under 40 minutes, that just shows a lack of efficiency. I didn’t appreciate this very much.
Secondly, we need to keep in mind that this is first and foremost a film score. More often than not, the music is shaped to fit the action of a scene rather than the other way around. So, it’s not uncommon for a song to go from very soft to very loud quite immediately with no apparent musical reason: the song is catering to the visual action, which, when unaccompanied by the visuals, feels a little awkward. Unless the listener is re-imagining the scene, the song becomes erratic in nature. This is especially the case for the original compositions, though we also see it in the rearranged versions of classic FFVII tunes.
Third, there are three tracks on here that come directly from the Final Fantasy VII Piano Collection. This Piano Collection was not released until December 2003; when the game first came out, the option to make a piano arrangement was declined. This leads me to believe that the FFVII Piano Collection project was financed because they knew they would want to use music from it in Advent Children. If I am correct in my suspicion, then this was a clever and efficient move on Square Enix’s part. However, for owners of the FFVII Piano Collection (such as myself), purchasing a soundtrack that has songs I already paid for is definitely a “bum deal.” Of course, these songs work almost perfectly in the movie (especially Tifa’s fight scene), but I could have done without them on the soundtrack itself.
It should also be noted that, while I’m not sure that the same recordings were used, I can at least detect that very similar arrangements of songs from the two “Black Mages” albums were used on this soundtrack, particularly J-E-N-O-V-A. Again, these rock arrangements are awesome, but we’ve heard them before. The real treat for the avid FFVII music enthusiast is a new arrangement or two. Fortunately, we are treated to these as well.
The album opens with an orchestral recording (done by Shiro Hamaguchi, the king of nearly all FF orchestral work) of the old FFVII game opening music. Here is one example of an old song written and recorded as a whole new arrangement: and friends, it is beautiful. It brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it, and it’s bringing a tear out again this very moment.
“The Promised Land” is one of the many original compositions on the album, this one composed by Kenichiro Fukui. We are treated to an a capella vocal choir, and the melodic strains move up and down in a fluid, dynamic motion. The use of Latin further gives us a sense of sacredness, and at three minutes, the song is not too short and not too long.
“Beyond the Wasteland” is one of the songs that is used to fit the timing of an action scene. The first half is ominous, with a looming string section reminiscent of the “Jaws” theme, a bass drum that sounds like a heartbeat, and a piano that creates the perfect sort of tension that I haven’t enjoyed since Shimomura’s work in Parasite Eve. Suddenly, halfway through the piece, the song picks up and turns into a tribal-pulse rock anthem, written for a motorcycle chase and fight sequence. Outside the context of the movie, the song still works, but it takes its sweet time in reaching the catchy and climactic part. Perhaps splitting the song into two separate tracks would’ve been a good idea.
There are two songs on disc one that I immediately identify as “filler” music to set the atmosphere: they aren’t anything musically impressive, but they do their part. Those songs are “Signs” and “Materia.” That’s all I’m going to say about these two pieces.
Nuzzled in-between two of the Piano Collection recordings is my favorite track on disc one, and one of the best original compositions for the soundtrack: “For the Reunion.” Written by Tsuyoshi Sekito, this song builds a repetitive chain of piano melodies and counter-melodies by adding first a bowed-string bass, then percussive sound effects, then finally drums and guitar. Within the context of the film, this song is used during a rather dramatic dialogue between two key figures (both of which are very mysterious people, and both of which are antagonistic toward one another). The effect is brilliant, and though the song is short, it stands on its own as one of the better compositions on the soundtrack.
Keiji Kawamori’s “Water” merges what I would refer to as “happy FFIX music” with “cheesy 80s atmospheric music.” I don’t know why I’ve grown to like it; I know that I definitely enjoy it within the film’s context (see it for yourself if you want to know what I mean). As a stand-alone piece, I still have a soft spot in my heart for this song. I think it’s the drag triplets on the guitar that make me enjoy it most on a musical level; or maybe it’s the chord progression and the lydian modal scale. Whatever it is, this one is going to be a matter of personal taste for most people. “Black Water” is quite the opposite; filled with synthetic sounds and harsh guitar work, its introduction almost sounds like Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer.” The song is an anthem for all that is evil, it almost sounds like a dark and grungy imperial march.
“Battle in the Forgotten City” is another one of those songs that is timed to the action of the movie, and I found that it was pretty bland compared to other songs. There is one section where the strings continually hit the same high note, and it sounds like the old X-Men cartoon theme. At the end of the day, though, this is a forgettable song. In fact, it is only slightly less forgettable than “Violator”, my least favorite track on disc one. Violator is thankfully short, but musically it is just more trashy guitar work on minor chords. It works well on other songs, but in this song, I just get tired of it. Yuck.
Oh, but disc one goes out on an incredibly reminiscent note! A new arrangement of “The Great Northern Cave” using some incredibly eccentric synth noises, a catchy drum loop, a choir effect similar to what can be heard in Super Metroid’s “Norfair” area and in Yoko Shimomura’s arrangement of “Dark Sun” on Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange, and the unforgettable piano part. This song brings back some memories, and this new arrangement brings back that tense and ominous feel of climbing into the Northern Cave at the midway point of FFVII (the game).
If you have reacted positively to what I’ve said thus far, you ought to let out a second cheer of joy right about now. Why? Well, it’s because disc two is better than disc one on almost every count. The real goodness is about to be brought to light. I had trouble choosing which songs to sample on disc two, because I wanted to share every last song from it with every one of you. It’s that good.
Written by Nobuo Uematsu and arranged by Kazuhiko Toyama, the two “Divinity” tracks are original songs for Advent Children. Both of them are pure genius, featuring full orchestra and choir. Then again, any song can have full orchestran and choir, that doesn’t make it automatically good. Luckily, they are also good on a compositional level. Though they focus on minor chords and scales throughout, there are lots of shifts in keys and modes, and the use of blazing-fast strings, pitched percussion (xylophones), and sweeping woodwinds are all very enjoyable on an aural level. Beautiful.
Between the two “Divinity” tracks are “Those Who Fight” and “Those Who Fight Further”, the standard and boss battle themes from FFVII, now done up right: Black Mages rock style. It pains me to not have these songs sampled, but just trust me: they rule. This is the epitome of musical tribute to FFVII music. And, once again, it works incredibly well within the movie.
“Encounter” is a short filler track composed by Kawamori, and it leads into Kawamori’s lengthy Highway Chase music. Yet again, the music is timed the action of the movie, and much of it is techno power with hits at the proper times. My favorite part of the song, which is also a great scene in the movie, is when the song unexpectedly changes to the Turks theme. I love the transition in and out of this song, and you can hear this part in the audio sample provided.
Among Sekito’s compositions, “Savior” is the most bland. Expect more guitar and drum rock fest…just, not as memorable or enjoyable as the other songs. This is the one track I often skip.
I mentioned J-E-N-O-V-A earlier, and the arrangement is pretty much straight the Black Mages version. Which, of course, is a decent version. In fact, it’s quite good. You’d have to try to make this song bad; thus, it’s good. Just trust me.
And then, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Not that we haven’t already heard 5 versions of One-Winged Angel over the years, but this one is the epitome of awesome. Along with being the culminating point of the film, this is the musical climax of the soundtrack, and friends, it is glorious. I don’t care if I sound like a fanboy. This version rules. We have full orchestra, full choir, and the Black Mages. Holy crap, that’s ridiculous. I’d like to note that the Latin lyrics have changed for this version: whatever it is they’re saying, they have something new to say for this version. Exciting, no? Anyway, what makes this arrangement so spectacular is the use of dynamics: there are points where the band really rocks it out, there are times when the band works in harmony with the orchestra, there are times when the orchestra gives the band a break, there are large instrumental portions, and there are times when the choir just absolutely takes over your sound system. Everything about this song is right. This is the best arrangement to one of the best songs ever written in videogame history. The price of the soundtrack is worth it for this one song. I’m not kidding.
After the fast, furious power of Advent: One-Winged Angel, we take a refreshing and sentimental turn to the beautiful ending music, “Cloud Smiles.” The resolution in the film is sweet, but not sugar-coated; if you’re not crying by now, you will be by the end of the next song.
Orchestrated by Kazuhiko Toyama, the End Credits is a medley of four classic themes. First is the FFVII Main Theme, second is Aerith’s Theme, third is One-Winged Angel, and then finally (after a reprise of the VII Main Theme) is the Main Theme of Final Fantasy. The orchestration here is absolutely brilliant. Wow. Previously, my favorite end credits medley of music was at the end of Final Fantasy VIII, which combined an original composition with the FF Main Theme. This song is worlds better. VGM veterans know that, back in the day, the “Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks” only had 3 arranged tracks, and they were the three songs mentioned in these End Credits. While those tracks were arranged well, I am more pleased with this medley. The One-Winged Angel section is light, almost mocking Sephiroth; Aerith’s Theme is put in double time, giving it a swift and bouncy feel. Lots of tears were meant to be shed during this time. Enjoy it, fanboys and fangirls.
At this point, the album (and the movie) should have ended. But no, instead we get this strange homage to the 80s. I can’t remember which member of the staff said this, but they said that back in the 80s, one of their favorite songs was Kyosuke Himuro’s “CALLING.” A strange song indeed: it doesn’t fit the feel of the movie at all. Even stranger is the post-credits scene of the movie, but that’s to be left for another review. Let’s just say that CALLING is a cheesy song written in 1987 (same year that FFI was released), and it feels weird hearing it after all of the great FFVII music. Listen to the samples and think what you will of it; as for me, I find it an odd addition, but somehow not to the detriment of the overall soundtrack.
Are you a fan of Final Fantasy VII? Then why haven’t you bought this album yet? I suppose the only decent answer would be “we’re waiting for an American release of the movie and/or its soundtrack.” If you’re not using that as your excuse, then you have no excuse. Go get it. Now. This is a big musical gift from Square to us, and we should enjoy it.